Usually I have no time or desire to read when I’m on one of our long, rough road trips. While we’re in the car I can’t read, of course, because I’m supposed to be looking at the route book and map. Besides, reading a book while the car’s moving would make me carsick. I also am a pro at useful daydreaming, fantasizing about what I’ll do first when I can get out of the car for good that day. Those daydreams tend to go in an endless loop of “shower,” “stretch,” “change out of sweaty clothes,” “go for a walk down the street,” “have a cold beer.” Not necessarily in that order.
Never having been to each day’s destination before, I have no idea whether any of these will even be possible. And sometimes, something else entirely will prove much more important. For instance, in Naqu, China, our first overnight stop in Tibet, the central government had decreed that no heat would be available anywhere in the city until several weeks after we were there. When we got to our hotel everyone inside was dressed in winter coats, scarfs, hats and gloves…at the reception desk. Our room was an icebox.
Out the window went the desire for a cold beer. Changing out of sweaty clothes wasn’t necessary, as if an perspiration dared appear it would turn to clanking icicles on my collar immediately. In came the urgent need to dig out the down jackets we had stashed away for our pending drive up to Everest Base Camp at 17,500 feet. Bringing the sleeping bags to the bedroom seemed like an excellent idea, too. Oh, and also that cashmere sweater I bought in Mongolia during the Peking to Paris Rally, which I really never thought I’d use on this trip.
As for those daydreams? I did manage the stretch and the walk down the street, though the latter was was swift and excluded any lingering on street corners. Back in the concrete igloo, I quickly retreated to my snuggly down sack, on top of which I piled two leaden duvets, then hunkered down for some quality time with my Kindle.
I was surprised by how often I turned to books on this past trip, the Great Game drive. I read several books over the 6 weeks we were on the road. Note that I’m pointedly excluding any books I read during our epic long flights from Denver to Istanbul and back again from Calcutta. That doesn’t count as road trip reading.
In retrospect I think it was the intensity of new sights and experiences that had me craving familiarity within the confines of a compelling story. I read three great books which I can advise anyone to pick up and peruse.
1. The Bang-Bang Club, by Greg Marinovich, about the photojournalists who documented the Soweto uprising and other township uprisings in the 1970s/80s, which preceded and precipitated the fall of apartheid in S. Africa.
2. The Places In Between, by Rory Stewart, recounting the details of his walk from Herat to Kabul in 2002, written in a quiet, compassionate, but “can’t put it down” fashion.
3. Beatrice and Virgil, A Novel, by Yann Martel, who wrote Life of Pi. I almost coudn’t make it through this book. It was a tougher read than expected, especially after the engaging story telling of Life of Pi. But I stuck with it and found the book utterly memorable.
If you read any of these, I’d love to know your comments.